South Africa: 19 Arrested as Mine Unrest Spread

Johannesburg — Police arrested 19 people near Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) in Rustenburg on Wednesday, after using rubber bullets and teargas to disperse a gathering, said a spokesman.

“Nineteen people were arrested during this [Wednesday] morning’s intervention by the police and they have been charged for an illegal gathering and public violence,” said Captain Dennis Adriao.

“We still have a high visibility and presence on the ground. At the moment, reports from the ground state that everything is calm at this time.”

Amplats spokeswoman Mphumi Sithole said she had been unaware of further police action beyond this morning.

“Operations have resumed as we have announced. However, many mining employees are still to return to work. We are unable to confirm the turnout numbers at this point.”

Sithole said the company could not confirm whether those arrested on Wednesday morning were Amplats employees.

Small groups of people stood under umbrellas in the area after the police action.

They said police left with a “truck-load” of men.

They said they were attending a meeting when the police “just came” and they were shot at with rubber bullets.

They ran into the informal settlement and rubber bullets were fired at them from a helicopter.

At the company’s Jabula shaft, about 10 police vans, vehicles, and water cannon were parked.

At Sondela settlement, worker Pula Thebe said they had been meeting to discuss the way forward after receiving an sms that they were expected back at work on Wednesday.

Thebe said they were worried about what would happen to their houses while they were on night-shift if they did go back to work.

Last week, government ministers in Cabinet’s security cluster said government would no longer tolerate violence, threats, and intimidation in the mining sector, as massive strikes sprang up along Rustenburg’s platinum belt, with another one near Carletonville.

The measures included a crackdown on illegal gatherings, carrying dangerous weapons, incitement, and threats of violence against anyone in the affected areas.

After suspending operations last week, citing employee safety due to the situation in the region, Amplats resumed operations on Tuesday.

Workers were paid over the suspension period, and praised the company for this.

On Friday, during the operational suspension, they marched to the company’s Bleskop stadium and decided they also wanted a salary increase.

Unlike their mining colleagues at other operations, who were seeking R12,500, they said they wanted R16,070 and other modifications to their fringe benefits.

Sithole said earlier that Amplats was making every effort to reassure employees that it was safe to return to work.

It wanted everyone back by Wednesday, and beyond that would have to “initiate appropriate employee relations procedures” for those who had not returned.

The company’s operations were already under pressure and further delays would increase the risk to the long-term viability of the mines.

Explaining the reason for the police action, Adriao said that for large groups of people to gather, in terms of the Regulation of Gatherings Act, they had to give notice to the local municipality for the gathering to take place.

Section four set out certain conditions for the gathering.

“Police need to be present, emergency services need to be on standby, marshals present the whole day. Water points need to be established,” he said.

The relevant municipality in this case was Rustenburg.

On Tuesday night, a lengthy strike at nearby Lonmin ended with a wage agreement.

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